Blessed Unrest

— How the Largest Movement in the World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming — 

Sustainability, the latest business buzzword, is nothing new to Paul Hawken. He’s been promoting sound ideas and practices about “ways of living that honor the earth and its inhabitants” for more than forty years. Perhaps best known as CEO of Smith & Hawken, the international catalog and retail supplier of garden and horticultural products which he founded in 1979, Hawken also started Erewhon Trading Company in 1966, as the first natural foods company in the United States.

In the mid-1980s, Hawken documented some of his adventures dealing with the “challenges and pitfalls of starting and operating socially responsive companies” in the book Growing a Business, which also became a 17-part video series shown on PBS stations throughout the nation. He’s been a member of the Global Business Network since the late 1990s, and he created the Natural Capital Institute in 2000. Through his affiliation with several other companies, Hawken is also involved in developing closed-loop manufacturing processes, proprietary content management systems for computer-based knowledge organizations, and improved fan technology for the air movement industry, as well as cooling and noise reduction processes for high-end computer chip manufacturers, aerospace, and telecommunications companies. He has more than one toe in the real world.

In addition to Growing a Business, Hawken wrote The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability in 1993 and Natural Capital: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution in 1999. His latest book, Blessed Unrest, is his attempt to describe the amorphous but potent global movement to keep the planet habitable for humanity. Although the press is full of bad news on the subject, Hawken asserts that his “is the story without apologies of what is going right on this planet, narratives of imagination and conviction, not defeatist accounts about the limits. Wrong is an addictive, repetitive story; Right is where the movement is. There is a rabbinical teaching that holds that if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, you first plant a tree and then see if the story is true. Islam has a similar teaching that tells adherents that if they have a palm cutting in their hand on Judgment Day, plant the cutting. Inspiration is not garnered from the recitation of what is flawed; it resides, rather in humanity’s willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, reimagine, and reconsider.”

“Although the six o’clock news is usually concerned with the death of strangers,” writes Hawken, “millions of people work on behalf of strangers.” Indeed, he continues, “healing the wounds of the earth and its people does not require saintliness or a political party, only gumption and persistence. It is not a liberal or conservative activity; it is a sacred act. It is a massive enterprise undertaken by ordinary citizens everywhere….”

Drawing on history, anthropology, genetics, immunology, biology, business, economics, systems theory, and the writings of Transcendentalists Emerson and Thoreau, as well as his own years-long experience in the field, Hawken illuminates an emerging movement that’s hard to quantify and explain. He doesn’t pretend to offer anything definitive, but he comes pretty darn close. He shows how we arrived at this point in our planetary history, what our options might be, and what we can do to help ourselves create a better future.

The final third of the book is a compendium of current resources on practically every topic imaginable. That there are literally thousands of organizations from all parts of the world economy, working like the individual cells in our body for the health of the whole, is amply demonstrated through even this partial listing. In addition to supporting the environment, Hawken is determined to help business and government implement sound practices, as well. More — and continually updated — information can be found at these wiki-based community websites:

Natural Capital Institute

Hawken found the title of his newest book in a comment from the modern-dance master choreographer Martha Graham to her protègé Agnes de Mille: “There is vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique…. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you…. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the other.”

And Hawken quotes Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams, on the opportunity life presents to each of us: “How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s culture but within oneself? If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light.”

Author: Paul Hawken
Published: New York: Viking Penguin ©2007

Copyright ©2013 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos